Four Raiders players to watch in Sunday's NFL Week 5 game vs. Chargers

Four Raiders players to watch in Sunday's NFL Week 5 game vs. Chargers

LOS ANGELES -- The Raiders will face adversity turning their lone victory into a winning streak. They’re beat up in certain spots -- especially on the offensive line -- and are going young in other positions while trying to figure how to slow big plays and finish offensive drives.

They’ll try to fix those problems Sunday against the dynamic Los Angeles Chargers, who, like the Raiders, always seem to shoot themselves in the foot.

The Raiders have played good football in spurts, yet they remained wildly inconsistent even in a victory over the Cleveland Browns.

The Silver and Black need solid performances from several to overcome the Chargers challenge, but here are four players in particular to watch in this AFC West contest.

DT Maurice Hurst

The rookie fifth-round pick has come on strong in recent weeks, making a profound impact against the Browns especially. Hurst had three tackles, a strip sack, a quarterback hit and a batted pass versus Cleveland. The Michigan product is making strides that immediate impact later-round rookies rarely make. He should’ve been drafted much higher, but fell due to health concerns that have had zero impact since turning pro.

Hurst needs to bust up the Chargers interior line, and create inside pressure that pocket passer Philip Rivers hates. He’s also a solid run player from several defensive-line techniques, and must help corral Melvin Gordon when he runs inside. Hurst is the Raiders most productive all-around lineman at this stage, and coaches have been impressed.

“He’s just getting better every week,” Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He’s understanding the techniques in there, both in the run and the pass game. He’s a bright guy. There’s a bright future ahead of him. I’m really glad we have him.”

RT Brandon Parker

The Raiders hope to develop this third-round pick behind the scenes, over a longer haul, to ease the transition from small-school North Carolina A&T to the pros. That’s no longer an option, not with Donald Penn on injured reserve with a groin injury.

Parker will make his first NFL start against Melvin Ingram and the Chargers pass rush, a difficult task even with star pressure generator Joey Bosa out a while longer.

He took over for Penn midway through the last game, and fared generally well despite allowing two sacks. He’ll get lots of help in this matchup from tight ends and running backs and double teams up front, but will have to stand on his own at times and thrive.

Protecting franchise quarterback Derek Carr is the offense line's most important job. While Parker may not be perfect in that effort, he must avoid the catastrophic mistakes that would put Carr’s health at risk.

CB Gareon Conley

The 2017 first-round draft pick is immensely talented. There’s no arguing that. Coaches have questioned his tackling ability, and it cost the team last week on a long pass play to Cleveland’s Antonio Callaway that set up an easy Browns touchdown. He didn’t play after that, though head coach Jon Gruden said his absence was part of a normal cornerback rotation.

Still, Conley has to be better to stave off competition for snaps from Daryl Worley – he’s fresh off a four-game suspension – and veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Conley will draw a tough assignment at times, working against Chargers receiver Keenan Allen. He needs to be tougher in coverage and a surer tackler to maintain his post as starting cornerback over the long term.

TE Jared Cook

The Silver and Black’s most consistent receiver is a tight end. Cook has been awesome thus far, with 26 catches for 370 yards and two touchdowns through four games. He’s ninth overall in receiving yards, a total tops among tight ends.

He has been sure handed and aggressive taking yards after the catch, traits that create trust with Carr and ensure the targets will keep coming.

Cook’s role is particularly important with Amari Cooper in an unfavorable matchup. He has struggled against Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward, meaning Cook might be the best option with Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant commanding respect in coverage. Cook can also move all around the formation, and often plays as much receiver as in-line tight end.

“Coaches love him because you create mismatches and problems and things like that,” Carr said. “At the same time when you get him the ball he can do some things after the catch, too. Kind of like a receiver, almost, that not a lot of tight ends can do.”

Jon Gruden knows firsthand why Saints NFC title loss 'will sting forever'


Jon Gruden knows firsthand why Saints NFC title loss 'will sting forever'

MOBILE, Ala. – Jon Gruden reached out to New Orleans head coach Sean Payton after the Saints lost the NFC championship on Sunday, largely due to a blown no-call on an obvious pass interference violation.

The Raiders head coach knows all too well both Payton and the pain felt after losing a chance to advance in the playoffs due to an officiating mistake.

Gruden was, after all, victimized by the Tuck Rule. The New England Patriots beat the Raiders back in the 2001 AFC divisional round largely because of a call that negated Tom Brady’s lost fumble, which would have essentially secured a Raiders victory.

“That’s one of the reasons Sean and I have talked,” Gruden said Monday during Senior Bowl week. “What do you say to your team? It’s tough. You lose a game like that, it’s tough. It’s tough to lose a game, period. It’s tough that it came down to that.”

Gruden has strong feelings on instant replay, but didn’t want to comment on whether pass interference calls should be reviewable. By rule, the egregious non-call in the L.A. Rams’ victory over the Saints wasn’t allowed to undergo a review.

Payton was despondent after the overtime loss to Los Angeles, saying the NFL told him shortly after the game that pass interference should have been called.

While the Tuck Rule Game happened 17 years ago, Gruden and several Raiders involved in that game are still bothered by the end result. That’s why Gruden believes the Saints might not ever get over such a loss.

“No. I don’t think so,” Gruden said. “If you really want to dwell on it, you won’t ever get over it. It’s the last time that team will ever be together. It will never be the same. Those guys fought long and as hard as they could. It will sting forever.”

Gruden and Payton have discussed the Saints’ situation already, and will again down the road.

“Sean and I worked together a long time ago (in Philadelphia), and I was involved in a playoff game that ended in quite dramatic fashion,” Gruden said. “So is he, now. He and I will have a couple of hot dogs and a couple Cokes and talk about it at some point in the future, I’m sure.”

Gruden isn't the only Raiders still sore over the Tuck Rule Game. Charles Woodson caused the fumble that was negated, and it still bothers him greatly. The Raiders were awesome that year, and had a real chance to win the Super Bowl if his big play had stood as a fumble. 

When Jon Gruden, Raiders expect some clarity on Marshawn Lynch's plans


When Jon Gruden, Raiders expect some clarity on Marshawn Lynch's plans

MOBILE, Ala. – Marshawn Lynch hasn’t played football in a while. There’s no telling if he’ll play football again.

The Oakland native and Raiders running back only played six games last season before a groin injury ended his campaign, the last of his contract with the Silver and Black.

There’s no telling if Lynch will return to the Raiders. He is, after all, an enigma.

Lynch doesn’t say much, and marches to his own drum. Even head coach Jon Gruden didn’t have an idea what Lynch wanted to do.

Clarity, he believes, should come relatively soon.

“When we get back after the Super Bowl, we’ll have a lot better indication of his health and his desires, of what he wants to do,” Gruden said Tuesday during Senior Bowl week. “If he wants to play I’m sure somebody, like me, would want him back.”

Lynch doesn’t speak publicly about much, and has given no indication about whether he would want to return. He largely rehabbed on his own after landing on IR.

Lynch could drift back into retirement. He enjoyed during the 2016 season, though he was his physical, at-times dominant self after returning to the game. He said several times during his Raiders tenure that he enjoyed playing in the East Bay, which also increased visibility for his charitable works in and around Oakland.

The Raiders don’t yet have a home stadium for the 2019 season, but it’s certainly possible Lynch would be less interested in a return if the Raiders played outside Oakland city limits, even if they remained in the greater Bay Area.

Gruden would like to know Lynch’s plans relatively soon, so he can decide on a proper course of action for his running back position. It’s possible Doug Martin will return after a strong 2018, but he’ll deserve a raise. The Raiders could draft a young, physical rusher for early downs as well. That need would become more pressing if Lynch doesn’t return.

We should have a better understanding of Lynch’s plans in coming weeks.